As I saw it, Dave was sort of a spiritual superhero. It wasn’t until I found out about his drinking problem that I learned just how right I was.
I was in one of those college classes that you take to boost your GPA. The boosting was needed because I took one of those college classes that destroys your GPA, namely Statistics.
Once I found out that I failed Statistics I decided to take a music class. I figured that an easy A in music would cancel out my F in math. See, I learned something in Statistics. But there was a problem. I failed that music class too. For some reason my professor was more interested in Bach than the Beastie Boys.
So I needed another booster.
I landed in one of those classes where you sit around in a circle and tell each other about yourself while eating Grape Nuts. Dave was in this class with me.
He sort of looked like the guy they get to play Jesus in the movies only he didn’t have a beard and his hair was shorter. He always had a smile on his face and he always looked like he was praying about something. Also, I think that he lived in a forest somewhere.
One day we sat in our Grape Nuts circle and our instructor asked a question that seemed simple enough.
“What are you struggling with?”
Growing up in the church, I’d been in these situations before and learned that there were two ways to answer such a question.
Of course, there was the honest answer.
“I’m struggling with forgiving that music professor that failed me. Also, I’m having a hard time not making fun of those purple socks you’re wearing with your sandals that should have been donated to Goodwill 5 years ago.”
If there was one thing that I learned growing up in church it was this. Never go with the honest answer. Always keep it safe, even if you have to be fake. So that’s what I did.
“I’m working on memorizing the New Testament and I just can’t seem to nail the last chapter of Revelation. Also, I can’t quit crying about the homeless. I never knew that it was possible to care so much.”
Dave wasn’t concerned with keeping it safe or being fake.
When he began to speak, that smile slowly left his face.
“I need your prayers. I got drunk the other night.”
Dave’s confession came at a funny time. I had been struggling. Not with alcohol. My struggle was with salvation. Although I remembered most of the details from the day that I repented of my sins I kept doubting my salvation. It really bothered me.
I grew up listening to a lot of evangelists. Most of them were like bad used car salesmen. All they seemed to care about was how many people they could get to raise their hands, walk an aisle and cry in front of the church. Believe me, they gave a hard sell. And even though I didn’t want to, I was buying. I left most of those services confused, worried and the proud owner of a gently used 1978 Ford Pinto.
Judging from their stories, those guys seemed perfect. And their sermons made everyone in the Bible seem perfect. But I knew that I wasn’t perfect. Just confused. And so the doubt crept in.
I didn’t get relief until I got to college. That’s where I learned about the Holy Spirit giving the gift of assurance to believers by being the guarantee or down payment for their inheritance (Ephesians 1:13-14).
College is also where I met Dave. Dave’s love for Jesus was obvious. But he wasn’t afraid to make his shortcomings obvious too. Dave belonged to Jesus. And Dave still needed the gospel. He wasn’t concerned with putting on a show and I’m glad.
Now I’m a pastor. Sometimes it’s tempting for me to try to convince my people that I’m better than I really am. That maybe I don’t need the gospel anymore. Sort of like the church leader who once told me that he doesn’t really struggle with sin anymore. But then I remember the scared kid that sat in all of those evangelistic crusades listening to allegedly perfect spiritual gurus. And I remember the burden that was lifted off of my shoulders that afternoon when Dave refused to be fake.
I don’t think that I have seen Dave since that semester ended almost 20 years ago. But I carry his lesson with me every day.
I’m saved but I have not arrived.
I still need the gospel.
I am not alone. The Holy Spirit reminds me of my true identity and helps me to live it out.
By God’s grace, I belong to Jesus.
And that is enough.